Why the Red Flag Law would have made no Difference in the Maine Mass Murder

Oct 31, 2023 | Red Flag Laws

“My biggest takeaway is that we need Democrats who act with courage, that not only say that they’re going to act on this issue but actually act on it when they say that they care about it. I was in Maine just about four years ago when they passed that yellow flag law. I remember talking with state legislators about why they needed to have a stronger law, why a yellow flag law was not enough. And time and time again, I heard something along the lines of, ‘Well, this is Maine. We’re not like other states. This just doesn’t really happen here.’ But now it unfortunately has, and now people are dead because of that. I’m actually in Virginia right now campaigning to help elect a gun safety majority in the state legislature because in Maine they don’t have a state legislature race this year, but in Virginia they do, and it’s coming up in the next week. So if you are in Virginia, vote. You can change this issue. Vote on November 7th, Tuesday, just coming up, and make sure you vote for people who are not backed by the NRA and the guns-over-people party, that want to actually protect everyday people.” David Hogg, October 29, 2023 on MSNBC

“I learned from [Card’s son] that his father’s mental health is in question. [Card’s son] told me that back around January, he noticed his father was starting to claim that people were saying things about him, while out in public,” [Sagadahoc County Deputy Chad Carleton] wrote. . . .

Card’s son concluded his father was “likely hearing voices or starting to experience paranoia,” a “re-occurring theme” as Card claimed derogatory things were being said about him, “such as calling him a pedophile,” Carleton wrote. . .

Sasha Pezenik, Jenny Wagnon Courts, Tonya Simpson, Josh Margolin, Ismael Estrada, and Luke Barr, “Alleged Maine gunman displayed glaring mental health signals, threatening and violent behavior, in months leading up to shooting,” ABC News, October 31, 2023

Many news stories are pointing out that the Maine mass murderer “displayed glaring mental health signals.” The implication is that if Maine only had a Red Flag Law where the relatives of the mass murderer could turn in the murderer, the law would have prevented this attack. But there are several problems with this argument. The most important is that even if the murderer had his guns temporarily taken away, it appears extremely unlikely that would have continued past the initial couple-week period. The murderer was in a mental health hospital for two weeks this past summer, but he was released. If the mental health care experts had believed that the murderer was a danger to himself or others, they would have applied to a court and used the civil commitment process to either mandate that he keep receiving outpatient treatment or be involuntarily committed. Since the mental health care experts weren’t willing to declare him a danger to himself or others, even if Card’s guns were taken away, when a hearing would eventually occur under a Red Flag law it would have been given his guns back.

While Red Flag Laws only take away a person’s guns, the civil commitment law, which Maine and all other states have, allows the judge to do a broad range of options, including taking away a person’s guns. In addition, hearing voices and being paranoid isn’t the same thing as saying that the person is dangerous.